Ante-Post Preview of the World Hurdle and Cheltenham Festival 2014 Tips – With the Cleeve Hurdle the highlight of Cheltenham Festival Trials Day this Saturday, many will be looking forward to the return of Big Buck’s and looking ahead to his appliance in the World Hurdle. With that in mind, now seems the perfect time to re-asses the ante-post markets for the feature race of day 3 of the Festival before the return of the staying king this weekend.
Predictably; the ante-post markets are still headed, and have been so since they opened, by Big Buck’s (2/1 BetVictor). After returning from an injury that has ruled him out for over two years, this Paul Nicholls trained superstar will be looking to reclaim his glory days of old with a victory in the Cleeve Hurdle before going on to reclaim the World Hurdle. The racing public will learn a great deal about his chances of doing so after Saturday but until then, it would be foolish of me to advise backing him. Despite his brilliance, he is a horse who has not been seen in a race for over 2 years and who will face race-fit individuals on stamina sapping ground. Undoubtedly, if he retains his ability then he will prove difficult to beat in both the Cleeve and the World Hurdle, however at already prohibitive odds he doesn’t appeal for either.
The problem however is; of the other horses in the market, who are likely to turn up, and who are likely to have the ability to defeat an in-form Big Buck’s?
Starting with the second favourite, ANNIE POWER (3/1 bet365 NRNB); connections have made no firm plans ahead of the Cheltenham Festival with the Champion Hurdle, Mares’ Hurdle and World Hurdle still under consideration. Even so, she is entered at Doncaster on Saturday over 2m a race which could be seen as a stepping stone on to a tilt at the Champion Hurdle. Whilst this may be true, if she doesn't perform satisfactorily at Town Moor then she has the option of the World Hurdle instead. I’m of the firm belief that the 3m trip will prove ideal for this mare and she will be seen to best effect over the longer trip. She travels with ease and does all her best work in the final furlongs of races. With that in mind, I would be interested in backing her with the added safety net of Non-Runner No Bet. Wherever she turns up at the Festival she is a fantastic horse and could well establish herself as a true superstar. She still represents value for the World Hurdle, and is worth backing in the hope that connections favour the step up in trip.
Two horses who represent both Jonjo O’Neill and JP McManus are the pair of More Of That (6/1 Stan James) and At Fishers Cross (14/1 Coral). The former performed impressively at Cheltenham when beating Salubrious in the Relkeel Hurdle on International Day. Currently third in the betting, whether this horse lines up will depend heavily on the performance of At Fishers Cross in the Cleeve Hurdle on Saturday. Disappointing in two starts so far this season, At Fishers Cross won the Albert Bartlett last year but has failed to reproduce anywhere near that level of form this season with his jumping ability coming under great scrutiny. Certainly, if he disappoints once again, More Of That could well contest the World Hurdle as the JP McManus first string, but with clear uncertainties as to the future plans for each horse, neither can be backed at the moment.
Others horses to note (entered also in both the Cleeve and the World Hurdle) include Boston Bob (9/1 bet365) and Reve De Sivola. The former reappeared over hurdles on New Year’s Eve at Punchestown where he won convincingly by 10 lengths without ever having really to be pressed. He fell at both Cheltenham and Punchestown last season over fences and could well thrive now back over the smaller obstacles. He has form at Cheltenham on good ground over 3m finishing second in the 2012 Albert Bartlett. He has solid claims but he only beat horses rated in the 130’s on his last outing and he will need to improve further to trouble the principles here. A lot more will be learnt about his chances after the Cleeve Hurdle.
Reve De Sivola (14/1 Stan James) on the other hand already has strong form with a variety of graded victories under his belt. Last time out he beat the likes of Salubrious and At Fisher’s Cross to land the Long Walk Hurdle. He adores truly testing ground and with the forecast for further rain this week he is sure to give Big Buck’s plenty to think about at Cheltenham on Saturday. In terms of his chances in the World Hurdle, they depend heavily on equally testing ground conditions in March. This horse loves to bowl along in front and put his rivals under pressure. In testing conditions this works very well, however on good to soft ground he leaves himself exposed and could well lead the others into the race and get swamped in the final furlongs.
In terms of an each-way bet, RULE THE WORLD (20/1 BetVictor) looks interesting as his current odds seem far too generous. This Mouse Morris horse finished second in last year’s Neptune Novice Hurdle, loosing out to The New One by only 4 lengths after suffering at the hands of his rival’s potent turn of foot. This year he has contested some top quality races and showed his true ability last time out at Naas where he beat a field of 140+ horses easily whilst giving weight away to all bar one of his rivals. His trainer stated that he would have been disadvantaged by the soft ground conditions and by the fact that he had to make the running. All these factors emphasise the brilliance of his performance and considering the World Hurlde has been the plan for this horse from day one, he looks fantastic value.
Others who seem unlikely to contest the race are; Quevega (8/1 Betfred), who is almost certain to defend her Mare’s Hurdle Crown; and Saphir To Rheu (16/1 Stan James), who runs in the same colours as Big Buck’s and looks unlikely to run providing his stablemate does so.
It would be a fairy-tale story if Big Buck’s were able to return to Cheltenham with a victory in the race he has made famous. Unfortunately, very rarely do such fantasies become realities in this sport and until he runs in the Cleeve Hurdle anyone looking to back Big Buck’s should refrain from doing so. In terms of the World Hurdle, the race looks difficult to assess with so many of the main contenders not guaranteed to participate. One of those is the Willie Mullin’s mare ANNIE POWER, a horse who I believe has the perfect attributes for the race. Despite connections considering a tilt at the Champion Hurdle I really do like her chances over 3m and I would suggest taking advantage of the few bookmakers offering Non-Runner No Bet at this stage. At bigger prices, last year’s Neptune Novices’ Hurdle second, RULE THE WORLD, looks far too big at 20/1 and with this race a confirmed target that price will disappear as and when others exit the market nearer the Festival.
ANNIE POWER (WIN NRNB) (3/1 bet365)
RULE THE WORLD (E/W) (20/1 BetVictor)
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